Biographical / Historical
William Nicholson Grier was born on June 11, 1812 in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. After graduating from West Point U.S. Military Academy in New York, he served as a Major of the 2nd U.S. Regular Cavalry during the Civil War and later as a Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st U.S. Regular Cavalry. Throughout his 35 year military career, Grier served in a number of capacities. His posts included serving at Fort Carlisle, Pennsylvania from April 1866 to April 1868, where he was Superintendent of Mounted Recruiting Service and was promoted to Colonel of the 3rd Cavalry. He then served as Commander at Fort Union in New Mexico from July 12, 1868 to May 1870. Grier retired on Dec. 15, 1870. He passed away on July 8, 1885 in Napa City, California and was buried in Northumberland, PA.
Between 1863 and 1866, the U.S. Army forced almost 12,000 Diné (Navajo) people from their ancestral homelands and relocated them 400 miles away to Fort Sumner, Bosque Redondo Reservation in New Mexico. On June 1, 1868, General William T. Sherman and Colonel Samuel F. Tappen met in Fort Sumner with Diné (Navajo) leaders led by Chief Barboncito to negotiate a treaty to allow the Diné (Navajo) to return to their ancestral homelands.
Valentin Wolfenstein, a Swedish-American photographer, was at Fort Sumner, New Mexico from March to July of 1868 and photographed the events before and after the Navajo Treaty signing. The Diné (Navajo) set of photographs in this collection have been attributed to many different photographers over the years, but Wolfenstein is believed to be the original photographer. Based on an excerpt from his journal, a few scholars believed that Wolfenstein could have sold his photographic equipment and photographs to Nicholas Brown, and this belief, along with later reprinting of the Barboncito portrait, may have led to some misattribution of Wolfenstein's work to N. Brown and Son and the Browns' work to Wolfenstein.
John Nicholas Choate (1848-1902) was the official photographer of the Carlisle Indian School from the school's founding in 1879 to his death in 1902. The Carlisle Indian School was the first non-reservation government-supported Indian school. Choate sold his photographs as a series of cabinet cards, cartes-de-visite, and stereographs.
It is likely that Grier collected the Diné (Navajo) photographs when he served at Fort Union in New Mexico, immediately following the 1868 Navajo Treaty. Presumably, Grier collected the Carlisle Indian School photographs in this collection after his retirement from the U.S. Army, in connection to his service at Fort Carlisle.